69 The Funeral
“Haul in the chains! Let the carcase go astern!”
The vast tackles have now done their duty. The peeled white body of the beheaded whale flashes like a marble sepul-chre; though changed in hue, it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk. It is still colossal. Slowly it floats more and more away, the water round it torn and splashed by the insatiate sharks, and the air above vexed with rapacious flights of screaming fowls, whose beaks are like so many insulting poniardsinsulting poniards: A poniard (or poignard) is a sometimes jeweled dagger frequently associated in literature with assassination and tragedy. Its use here is of a piece with the “Et tu Brute” look of a calf’s head, referred to in Ch. 65. A specific source for an insulting or insolent poniard has not been identified. in the whale. The vast white headless phantom floats further and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats, what seem square roodsrod ... square roods: A rod is 16.5 feet in length, and the conventional dimensions of an acre are 40 by 4 rods. A rood is one-fourth of an acre, or about the size of half a football field, but here "square roods" means huge numbers occupying a lot of space. of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment the murderous din. For hours and hours from the almost stationary ship that hideous sight is seen. Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, upon the fair face of the pleasant sea, wafted by the joyous breezes, that great mass of death floats on and on, till lost in infinite perspectives.
There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled. In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if peradventureI ween, if peradventure: “I think, if by chance” (obsolete). he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.
Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghost survives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-war or blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuring the swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating in the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the whale’s unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the log—shoals, rocks, and breakers hereabouts: beware! And for years afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the placeships shun the place: According to Henry Stommel, 19th-century nautical charts and atlases "contained some two hundred islands that are now known not to exist" (Lost Islands: The Story of Islands That Have Vanished from Nautical Charts, xv). Here, Melville suggests one way in which islands appearing on nautical charts never existed in the first place.; leaping over it as silly sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held. There’s your law of precedents; there’s your utility of traditions; there’s the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air! There’s orthodoxy!REVISION NARRATIVE: There’s orthodoxy! // Ishmael's description of the turbulence in sea and air caused by sharks and birds feasting on a whale carcass takes one rhetorical turn and then another. He first notes how passing ships mistaking the turbulence for a dangerous shoal warn other ships of a peril that does not exist. He then draws a series of comparisons arguing that legal precedent, social traditions, and old beliefs are similarly based on false perceptions and no material evidence. But, apparently, for his British editor, Melville goes one step too far in comparing this perpetuation of error to "orthodoxy," that is, the ancient teachings and policies of religion, for "There's orthodoxy!" was expurgated, rendering Ishmael's rhetoric anticlimactic. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.
Thus, while in life the great whale’s body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panicREVISION NARRATIVE: powerless panic // Instead of the American version “powerless,” the British edition prints “powerful.” Each word—whether an intentional change or not—is differently meaningful. On the one hand, “powerless” suggests that the false panic derived from the “ghost” of a non-existent threat paralyzes us, leaving us powerless. On the other hand, imagined threats, like superstitious orthodoxy, panic us all the more; they are powerful.
The change from powerless to powerful may be a printer’s error, Melville’s correction, or his revision; an editor’s purposeful alteration of such magnitude seems unlikely. In resetting the American edition’s end-of-line hyphenated “power-less,” the British typesetter might have seen “power-” only, assumed “powerful,” set that word, and eye-skipped to “panic.” A reverse scenario would be that Melville’s American printer, reading from Melville’s manuscript, misread the handwritten “powerful” and printed “powerless,” which Melville then corrected to “powerful” in the copy of Moby-Dick he sent to England. A third possibility is that Melville changed his mind. That is, he was originally drawn to the idea that panic induces paralysis and powerlessness, but shifted to the idea that “powerful panic” is more in keeping with his argument that superstition and orthodoxy are forms of panic that have power over us. Taking the change to “powerful” to be “probably” a correction (NN 785), the NN editors adopted without further discussion that British reading. Arguing more fully that the change was Melville’s correction, the Longman edition followed suit. However, acknowledging the possibility that the change to “powerful” may be a revision, and following its principle of not mixing versions, MEL notes the problem here but retains “powerless.”
to a world.
Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts than the Cock-Lane oneCock-Lane one: The eminent author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (see also Ch. 53), who sought proof that ghosts existed, helped expose London’s fraudulent Cock-Lane ghost in 1762, although he was later thought to have believed in it. Melville’s journal entry for November 10, 1849 records his going “through Cock-Lane (Dr. Johnson’s Ghost).”, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in them.